[Ads-l] Quote: I have nothing to declare except my genius (1910) attributed to Oscar Wilde

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 19 01:35:31 EST 2022

The Quote Investigator article about the statement in the subject line
is now available here:


Here is a summary with dates of the evolving instances:

1910: I have nothing to declare except my genius
1912: He had nothing to declare except his genius
1912: He had nothing to declare but his genius
1913: I have nothing to declare but my genius
1917: He had nothing to declare save his genius
1917: He had nothing to declare but genius
1918: Nothing—except—my genius
1923: Only my genius
1925: Nothing but my genius
1934: I have nothing but my genius to declare

One intriguing and confusing citation appeared in "The Detroit Free
Press" on January 6, 1924. A young French author named Sylvestre
Dorian convinced the newspaper that she had obtained the rights to
translate and publish letters sent from Oscar Wilde to French actress
Sarah Bernhardt. One letter discussed Wilde’s experiences entering New

[Begin excerpt]
“When I arrived in New York I was fairly smothered by reporters. It
appears that some of the imaginative ones who are ever at work to make
me famous had spread the story that I slept in gorgeous lace
nightgowns. I detected, therefore, unusual curiosity in the faces of
customs officers when they bade me open my trunks for examination.
Finding nothing one of them asked: 'Have you anything to declare?'
'Nothing,' was my disillusioning reply. ‘Nothing, except my genius.'
Naturally the papers all made capital out of that declaration."
[End excerpt]

The content of this purported letter was suspicious because
contemporaneous newspapers did not report Wilde's remark. In addition,
publisher Rupert Hart-Davis who assembled and published "The Letters
of Oscar Wilde" considered the missives published by Dorian to be

More details are available in the QI article.
Feedback welcome

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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